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Red Alert: Friday’s “Day of Rage” in Saudi Arabia Could Rock the World

Summary:  Friday might be an important day, perhaps the most important day of the decade.  It’s the Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia.  The Princes have mobilized their vast security services to prevent or disperse the protests.  Will anybody dare to show up?  Will the Princes order the use of force?  Will the crowds resist?  The consequences could send oil prices skyrocketing, shaking the world. Many have guesses but nobody knows the outcome.

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain.  Now it’s Saudi Arabia’s turn.  Most of the usual sources (e.g., Stratfor) have said almost nothing about Friday. But there are hints, some of which appear below.

If the Princes fall it will be no Black Swan.  Experts have long said that unsustainable trends will lead to disaster for the Saudi Princes (unless they flee promptly).

  • Elderly rulers, with the grandkids next in line, and no proven mechanism for the transfer of power.
  • A young population (median age 2).  Poorly educated (Islamic studies are at the core of the curriculum).  Depression-like levels of unemployment — with many of the employed at overpaid make-work.  Idle, with few prospects. 
  • A surplus of males (9.6 million male, 7.5 female).  Many of the men cannot pay the Mahr (see Wikipedia), the bride price often necessary to marry.
  • Saudi national finances totally depend on oil exports, but the government runs deficits as spending outpaces even rising oil prices.
  • Rapidly increasing consumption of oil takes an increasing fraction of oil production, putting pressure on vital oil exports.

The terminal factor is the large and rapidly growing population.  The population from 4 million to about 26 million today, of which 6 million are foreigners.  That’s fast, even for this region.  Totally cracked for a nation most of which is desert.

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Information about the Day of Rage

(1)  Here is the one of he few useful bits of hard news, perhaps foreshadowing events: “Small protest in Saudi despite government warning“, AP, 9 March 2011. Especially note this:

The kingdom does not interfere in the affairs of others and will not allow for anyone to interfere in its own affairs,” Prince Saud al-Faisal said Wednesday at a press conference in Saudi Arabia’s port of Jiddah. Using a figure of speech, he said his regime would “cut off any finger” raised against the regime. “Reform cannot be achieved through protests … The best way to achieve demands is through national dialogue,” he said.

I love the reporters’ assurance that this was only “a figure of speech.”  Probably not.

(2)  Establishment sources here and there give confident predictions that there will be no protests, or only small ones. This is the only contrary note I’ve found in the mainstream news media: “Saudi Arabia is losing its fear“, Eman Al Nafjan (writes the Saudiwoman’s Weblog about Saudi society, women, and human rights issues; she lives in Riyadh), op-ed in The Guardian, 8 March 2011 — “There’s no doubt the kingdom is ripe for revolution, and any security forces violence at Friday’s protests could ignite the fuse”. Esp note this, showing how the Saudi establishment presents a unified front to agitation for change:

Then the highest religious establishment, the Council of Senior Clerics, deemed protests and petitions as un-Islamic {see Reuters}. The Shura Council, our government-appointed pretend-parliament, also threw its weight behind the interior ministry’s ban and the religious decree of prohibition {See Arab News}.

(3)  The best analysis I’ve seen: “Saudi Arabia’s Day of Rage“, Hugh Miles, blog of the London Review of Books, 8 March 2011 — Excerpt:

Sunni opposition sources claim to have received assurances from the police that this time they will refuse orders to fire on demonstrators. … Anti-government activists say the police have covertly released demonstrators unharmed after promising them their support in future.

… In the event that force is used, however, organisers expect the demonstrations quickly to turn violent: unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, in Saudi Arabia there’s a large number of guns in private hands. ‘In Saudi Arabia an estimated 80 to 90% of families have a weapon in their house and around 50% of those weapons are AK-47s,’ an opposition source told me. ‘If I go on a peaceful demonstration and I am shot by the police and I am the son of a tribe then 100% definitely my brother will bring a Kalashnikov and kill the policeman who killed me and he will kill more, five or ten. They know this, the police, and so I’ve been told by many ordinary individuals and officers that no way will they shoot us even if they are given orders and if force is used it will backfire in a very aggressive manner.’

… ‘Our supporters say: “Ask us to kill anybody and we are ready. We will go and invade the governor’s office or storm the Ministry of Interior.” But they refuse to participate in a peaceful demonstration as they don’t want the humiliation of going unarmed to be hit over the head by a stupid policeman.

Miles is a British journalist specializing in the Middle East.  He’s written two books: 

Updates

There is a sectarian dimension to these protests, masking the degree of Sunni dissatisfaction with the Princes:  “Saudi expectations high before Friday’s ‘day of rage’ protests“, The Guardian , 10 March 2011 — “Shia minority have defied ban on demonstrations for two days and are optimistic that change can be effected.”


Originally published at Fabius Maximus and reproduced here with permission.

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